Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - Xbox Live Arcade

Well the Summer of Arcade for 2010 is officially drawing to a close. It had a good run this year, with no game up until this point really standing out as weak, although admittedly Castlevania was not really for me. The eagerly anticipated, and now controversial (more on that later), release of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light closes out this year’s event.

Read on to find out whether this game brings everything to a close with a bang, or a whimper.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is easily the biggest departure in game play that the Tomb Raider series has seen to date. Yes tombs are still definitely being raided, but they are now being done so using a top down, isometric view as opposed to the established third person perspective. Also, for the first time in the series, the focus is almost entirely centered around coop.

In addition to Lara, you have Totec, the titular Guardian of Light who packs a spear as a default weapon. Later though, he discovers how to use a gun (and he does so eerily quickly I should add) and so you have yourself a gun toting Aztec warrior, aka the very definition of Badass.

You choose your character and the other character, depending on whether you’re doing single or multiplayer, will either be controlled by your friend or the AI. The two of you then traverse the levels together, working in tandem to take down enemies and solve puzzles.

Now, I love me a good coop experience and I have to say that this is one of the best in recent memory. The title does a terrific job of ensuring that both players have an equal role and that they are both absolutely essential to progressing. One player can’t simply hold back while the other one runs ahead and does all of the work. No each person is completely vital to making it through each level.

This is no more evident than in the puzzles. Although early on there are a couple basic “k I’ll stand here on the switch and then you run through the door” puzzles, they disappear quickly and are replaced by puzzles that require both players to work together in order to solve it. I wouldn’t say any of them are all that difficult, but there are definitely a few that will make you stop and think about what you need to do to move on.

The combat, although a little on the simple side, works well too. It has the feel of a dual stick shooter with the left stick aiming and the right stick firing. You’ll obtain a variety of different weapons, although I’m a big fan of Totec’s default spear. Sure it’s slow but there’s something about that “thunk” when it goes into an enemy that it immensely satisfying. You’ll also find artifacts and relics that can be equipped to modify your combat abilities. The firefights are often fast and frantic, but you’ll never feel overwhelmed. The shooting feels good and is immediately easy to get a hold of.

The game is great fun but it also looks fantastic. This is easily the biggest XBLA title I’ve downloaded, clocking in at just over 2 GBs, but man does it ever show. The levels themselves look fantastic, but there are also fully rendered cut scenes and comic book style scene transitions. This is easily one of the best looking games available on the service.

I guess now is as good a time as any to address the online coop controversy. First of all, yes it’s really unfortunate that this game will not be launching with online coop enabled. It doesn’t affect me too much as my fiancée was eagerly anticipating this title, but I can certainly understand why so many people aren’t happy. This game is still a blast in single player but the main appeal is coop so it’s too bad a lot of people may not get to experience the game as it’s meant to be played.

That being said, I still give the game an easy recommendation. I can’t quite give it the title of best Summer of Arcade game, as that still belongs to LIMBO in my eyes, but this one is easily the runner-up. If you have somebody to play couch coop with, this should be an instant purchase, and it’s fun as a single player game as well. If you’re hell bent on playing only online coop, then please don’t ignore this one come September 28th as it is more than worth your time.